Rancho San Antonio County Park/Open Space Preserve,
County of Santa Clara/
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
5.5 mile loop past Deer Hollow Farm and through grassland and chaparral.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.5 mile loop hike is easy, with about 800 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 350 feet. The hike is flat for about 1 mile, climbs on a moderate grade to about 1045 feet, descends to about 330 feet, and returns to the trailhead on a level grade. This is a good hike for beginners starting to stretch their legs a bit; experienced hikers will probably find it easy. There are opportunities at Rancho for longer, harder hikes.

Some shade but mostly exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit #13 Foothill Expressway. Drive south on Foothill Boulevard and take the first right on Cristo Rey Drive. Drive about 1 mile and turn left into the park.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3719'58.38"N
122 5'16.24"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants on Foothill Boulevard, just north of 280. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Once in the park, bear right and drive to the last parking lot, at the end of the park road. Lots of parking, but the lots fill up quickly at this popular park. No entrance or parking fees. Maps available at a kiosk inside the park. Pay phone, drinking water, and restrooms in parking area (and pit toilets at Deer Hollow Farm). There are designated handicapped parking spots, and trails are wheelchair accessible. There is no direct public transportation to the park.

Most trails are designated hiking and equestrian only. A few are open to hikers and cyclists only. There are a handful of hiking only trails. Dogs are not permitted.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Rancho San Antonio page
MROSD's Deer Hollow Farm page

Map Choices:
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
Map from MROSD (download Rancho San Antonio pdf).
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Rancho hike.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula covers Rancho San Antonio.

View 73 photos from the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

I used to undervalue Rancho San Antonio. Photo of the parking lot at Rancho San Antonio On my first visit, when I was a new hiker, I was appalled by the crowds. I was horrified to witness a man picking California poppies with his young daughter (picking flowers at any park in the bay area is a no-no, and California poppies are the state flower). I've since heard a story wherein a Rancho regular tried to explain to a foreign visitor that the sticks clutched in her baby's little hands were in fact, poison oak. Rancho San Antonio may be as close as many South Bay residents (and out-of-town visitors) get to a Bay Area nature experience. That's somewhat ironic because once past the manicured meadows and fenced-in farm, a Bay Area hiker may find substantial wildlife and rugged trails.
     Even though Rancho's trails are heavily used by joggers and runners, quite a few visitors report wildlife sightings, including turkeys, coyotes, quails, bobcats, and the rare mountain lion. Deer are so common it's an unusual occurrence to not see some. On recent hikes, I've delved into the heart of Rancho, and found much to my liking. Although it's not a bastion of wilderness, Rancho San Antonio boasts extensive trails, varied terrain, and easy access to South Bay and Peninsula residents.Photo of Lower Meadow Trail, on the way to Deer Hollow Farm
      Most visitors go no further into the preserve than Deer Hollow Farm, an easy flat 2 mile round trip hike. Since cyclists are not permitted on trails west of Deer Hollow Farm, strollers outnumber bicycles on the paths leading to the farm. Horses, though allowed on many trails, are rarely seen. Joggers and runners make the most of Rancho's trails; being passed by a fantastically in-shape runner while slowly trudging uphill is a bit disheartening, but not at all unusual.
     Miles of trails allow for lots of loop possibilities. Starting from a valley elevation under 400 feet, PG&E Trail and Upper High Meadow Trail ascend and then cross the northern slopes of Black Mountain. Combine those paths with High Meadow Trail and Coyote Trail for a 9-mile trek that escapes most of Rancho's crowded sections. An easier walk can be found on Rogue Valley Trail, which departs from Deer Hollow Farm on a level course,before turning uphill from a creekside grade to meet High Meadow Trail. High Meadow then drops back to Deer Hollow Farm through oaks and grassland. From Rancho's eastern trailhead, a hike to Black Mountain is possible but tough. Expect to log about 16 miles, with elevation gain (and then loss) of about 2400 feet. For an easier assault on Black Mountain's summit, start at the Duveneck Windmill trailhead, where the out-and-back trek to Black Mountain is a mere 10 mile hike.Photo of the gardens and barn at Deer Hollow Farm
     Different seasons feature a variety of pleasant natural phenomena at the preserve. Spring wildflowers carpet hillsides along Hidden Meadow Trail, while in autumn the same rolling hills are alight with the leaves of deciduous oaks. Back in the deep recesses of Wildcat Canyon maples litter the ground with orange leaves in autumn, and the trailside stream plumps with water in early spring. Toyon and madrone add a festive touch of red berries around Christmas. Buckeye trees bloom just as the majority of wildflowers fade, perfuming the air with lovely white flowers. Then it's chamise's turn to bloom, in late May and early June, followed by toyon. During summer heatwaves, you can seek refuge from the heat and the crowds in the cool canyons serviced by Rogue Valley and Wildcat Canyon Trails.
     For the featured hike, start at the county park parking lot near the restrooms. Walk down the paved trail at the northwestern corner. You'll cross a bridge, and after about 125 feet, reach a junction. Turn right onto the dirt path, marked by a sign "to Deer Hollow Farm."
      The wide path, which is closed to cyclists and equestrians, passes by a large grassy meadow, a picnic area, and skirts a huge California bay tree. Once past some tennis courts, the path ends near the border of the county park and open space preserve, at 0.24 mile. Veer left and look for the MROSD signboard. If you're pushing a stroller or in a wheelchair, stick to the paved road all the way to Deer Hollow Farm, but if you're hiking, choose the adjacent dirt path, Lower Meadow Trail. Photo of High Meadow Trail
      Some tall oaks and buckeyes punctuate the grassland. Where the level trail meets the paved road, at 0.48 mile, cross the road and pick up the trail again on the other side, as the trail skirts a permit-only parking area. After crossing a bridge, the narrow path, separated from the road by an old-fashioned fence, retains an easy grade while cutting through grassland and some coyote brush. Some eucalyptus, willow, and oaks provide occasional shade. At 0.73 mile, Lower Meadow Trail reaches a signed junction. From here you can continue on the dirt trail, or walk along the paved road (alternately, you can avoid the farm area by taking Farm Bypass Trail, across the road). Stay to the right on Lower Meadow Trail, as it takes a slight rollercoaster course through oak and locust trees. The path ends at the paved road at 0.85 mile. Turn right.Photo of view south from High Meadow Trail
     The wide paved road follows along the creek. Look for snowberries in autumn. Old farm implements and buildings announce your arrival at Deer Hollow Farm. In autumn, look to the left for pomegranate and persimmon trees. You may see some of the farm residents, including goats, cows, and pigs. In spring, it's exciting to catch a glimpse of baby goats, pigs, or sheep. After passing the charming garden and educational barn, you'll reach a signed junction and information signboard at 1.00 mile. Rogue Valley Trail begins to the right. Stay to the left (toward Wildcat Canyon Trail), as the trail continues to run along the creek. Just past the pit toilets at 1.03 miles, you'll reach a junction with the other end of Farm Bypass Trail. Continue straight. In late spring, you might see baby quail tottering across the trail, watched over by proud mom and pop. At 1.14 miles, you'll reach another signed junction. Turn right onto High Meadow Trail.Photo of trail through chaparral
     After your flat warmup, you'll finally begin to climb on High Meadow Trail. Along the sides of the trail, look for monkeyflower, sagebrush, silktassel, coyote brush, pitcher sage, buckeye, coast live oak, and blue oak. Switchbacks keep the grade easy on this trail open to equestrians and hikers only. Views to the south are revealed almost immediately. High Meadow Trail sweeps uphill through some oaks and grassland, with a bench under some coast live oaks creating a nice rest spot. In late spring you might see lots of white mariposa lily, as well as Ithuriel's spear, mule ear sunflower, and brodaiea. Wood fences keep the trail intact as it ascends; ignore any shortcuts. Suddenly you'll climb along the flanks of a grassy knoll, a dramatic counterpart to the aptly named Black Mountain, looming to the west. Cercocarpus (mountain mahogany) and toyon mingle with the trailside oaks. Too soon, the trail crests and reaches a signed junction at 1.89 miles. Turn left and walk to the crest on an unmarked short path. The view from the belvedere showcases the rolling foothills of Rancho, and the lovely oak grassland you've just climbed through. This is a sure spot for spring wildflower hunting, or a lunch break on a cool day. Retrace your steps back to the previous junction, at 1.98 miles. Chamise blooming in late spring This junction can be confusing. You want to continue uphill, past Wildcat Loop Trail, and then almost immediately bear right onto a path marked with a small "trail" marker (the other trail climbs more steeply uphill and is an option).
     The trail switchbacks easily through plants often found on the east slope of a bay area hillside; toyon, oak, monkeyflower, and patches of poison oak. At 2.16 miles, the trail meets the steeper fire road again at the ridgeline. Cross the fire road and stay to the left (again, the other trail is an option). The vegetation takes a dramatic turn on the western slope of the hillside. Drier chaparral plants such as chamise, toyon, monkeyflower, and sagebrush are common. You can really get a sense of how chamise dominates the landscape in late spring, when masses of tiny white chamise flowers brighten up the hillsides. At 2.23 miles, the two trails join together at a signed junction. Rogue Valley Trail sets out downhill to the right. Stay to the left on High Meadow Trail.
     The trail keeps a steady, nearly flat pace, as it cuts through the chaparral. There are nice views north and west. At 2.56 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Upper High Meadow Trail, an option if you'd like to extend your hike almost 2 miles. Turn left onto Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail.Photo of junction
     A slight descent begins on this hiking and equestrian trail. Look for toyon, silktassel, coast live oak, chamise, sagebrush, pitcher sage, cercocarpus, California coffeeberry, poison oak, and madrone. If you can tear yourself away from the views and the plants, look down at the trail. I've seen bobcat and coyote tracks, and one time spotted a sizable furry scat that was issued forth from a large mammal, perhaps even a mountain lion (although since I saw no cougar tracks, it was probably a large coyote or bobcat). As you lose elevation, the vegetation begins a subtle shift. Buckeyes, madrones, and California bays herald your arrival to the cool, damp canyon floor. This is a quiet place, where the melodic gurgle of the creek may only be matched by the sounds of small airplanes occasionally passing by overhead, and the pounding of joggers' footfalls. California bay and maple tree trunks are adorned with velvet green moss coats, and it seems as it the sun never reaches the canyon floor. Bridges cross the creek several times, as the trail gently descends. At 3.85 miles, Upper Wildcat Creek Trail meets Wildcat Loop Trail at a signed junction. Buckeyes, maples, oaks, and California bay mingle gracefully, with ferns, creambush, and berry bushes tangled in the understory. Stay to the right. Photo of Wildcat Canyon Trail
      The trail narrows as it winds along the creek, remaining for the most part, under shade of California bays. At 3.97 miles, you'll reach a junction with the PG&E Trail. This trail is an option for returning to the trailhead, although you'll face more elevation gain and loss than returning the way you came. Stay to the left on Wildcat Canyon Trail, which is signed as a hiking-only path. This segment continues the enchanting journey through this spectacular riparian corridor. In autumn, fallen buckeye seed pods resemble shiny brown rocks in the creekbed, and orange maple leaves carpet the ground. As you start to hike out of the canyon, the tall trees thin, allowing sunlight to nourish the moisture-loving shrubs crowding the trail and the creekbed. Look for ninebark, a shrub easily confused with blackberry. The clustered flowers are distinctive. At 4.35 miles, Wildcat Canyon Trail ends at a previously encountered junction with High Meadow Trail, near Deer Hollow Farm. Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 5.51 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Previously hiked: Friday, June 1, 2001